New Persona series spin-off Persona Q has a fair number of elements that are a direct throwback to the first video game RPGs. But instead of reminding me directly of those, the first thing it brought to my mind was the first online game I ever played way back in the mythical year of 1991.
Persona Q is, when it comes down to it, an "old school" dungeon crawler in the truest sense. Like the original video game RPG, 1981's Wizardry, you move in first person, square-by-square through a grid-based maze. Moreover, the game does not simply give you a map with all the information on your surroundings. Rather, while it does automatically map each square you are standing on, it requires you to add any and all additional information such as doors, chests, and power spots yourself. And given that the maps of Persona Q's dungeons are massive (and fully mapping a floor rewards you with a powerful item), making a detailed map is more than a good idea.
So as I meticulously mapped my surroundings while playing, I started wondering when the last time was I actually had to manually draw a map for a game. But immediately that digressed into a second question, "When was the first time I ever had to draw a map for a game?" Surprisingly, I still remember it vividly, despite it occurring over twenty years ago.
When I was seven, my father bought a new computer — passing on to me his Apple II with a stack of games on floppy disk including Hangman and Tic-Tac-Toe. His new computer didn't have Windows, a sound card, or even a mouse; it was little more than a word processor. The screen didn't even have colour. (OK that's not true, it had two colours: ugly orange and black.) But one day, a friend of my father's came over with a stack of floppy disks (the new 3.5 inch variety even). He spent a few hours installing something new on the computer and signing us up for a trial service for something called "Prodigy." This was the first time that I was ever connected to the internet.
For those of you under 30, you didn't just get the internet directly when the internet first started up. Rather, you signed up for a dial-up service that was basically a portal to the internet which also had exclusive perks like email, news, shopping, and, yes, games. One of these games was called MadMaze.
When I was a kid, I loved mazes. I had books full of mazes (which I, like a good kid, never drew in so that I could solve them again and again). So, of course, when my father's friend showed MadMaze to me, I was immediately hooked. But more than that, MadMaze was the first game I had ever played that allowed me to walk around in a 3D, first-person environment. So while games were in colour on my NES, they seemed antiquated compared to MadMaze.
In retrospect, I don't think I ever got very far in the maze. I remember dying a lot and, in the first grade, I wasn't really literate; so I couldn't read/solve the riddles and hints made to help you through the maze. Still, it was a lot of fun, and playing Persona Q has thus been a real nostalgic treat.
And as Prodigy went the way of the dodo like America Online and CompuServe over a decade ago, I was sure that games like Persona Q were the closest I would ever get to playing MadMaze again — until, while doing research for this article, I found that thanks to fans and the creators, MadMaze is still available online. So if you're up for some real old school online gaming, click this link (requires Internet Explorer to run) and give MadMaze a try. That's what I'll be doing.
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth was released in Japan for the Nintendo 3DS on 5 June 2014. It is currently set to release in the West in late 2014. MadMaze was originally released for computers in 1989.